‘Fountain of youth,’ other wonders explored in new novel

In this novel, Eco-Socialists call the shots in California, gravity turns against itself, and immortality comes with a price.

Review: Stay Younger Longer

Ryan Hyatt, 282 pages

With its trendy boutiques and restaurants firmly entrenched in upscale society — and a plethora of disheveled vagrants wandering the sidewalks firmly detached from it — Rose Avenue may not seem like the ideal backdrop of a story driven by the quest for immortality, but this up-and-coming neighborhood in Venice, Calif., offers an excellent glimpse into the conflict between the haves and have-nots essential to questioning the purpose of civilization in Ryan Hyatt’s latest novel, Stay Younger Longer.

Set in 2046, the plot involves a journalist, Dick White, trying to determine if there’s a cure for an anti-aging drug that turns out to be a biological weapon. The drug, Euphoria, is widely used among Los Angeles’ greatest beneficiaries and misanthropes. The nanonarcotic provides big-name Hollywood actors and actresses lengthy career spans in the entertainment industry, for example, but Euphoria’s influence doesn’t end there. Suburban mothers and fathers take the drug to maintain their vigor and relevance in their children’s lives. Prison convicts consume it to preserve their youth and thus ‘stick it to the man,’ leaving the penal system looking and feeling the same age years after they entered it. Even vagrants get hooked on the drug and the endless retirement it offers them in L.A.’s urban outdoors.

The problem is that Euphoria is more than just a pink pill popped twice a day to stave off aging. After a series of high-profile deaths, including the passing of Maggie Droeger, a popular movie star, rumors abound the nanonarcotic is a time bomb set to kill off addicts, believed to make up a large minority of L.A.’s population. Couple that with Dick’s reckless attempts to make sense of his bachelor life, revolutionary California splitting from the Union, a shadow city floating above L.A. set to founder, and a mad scientist/eccentric criminal leading the charge — Stay Younger Longer leaves readers bristling over how troublesome the future might prove to be for Angelenos — or anyone else with a right mind — who seek a pleasant, long-lasting life.

Hyatt, however, insists his novel is not based on prophecy, but satire. Stay Younger Longer questions the role of people living in a world where the latest examples of ‘progress’ force them to wonder whether the system in place is designed for their benefit, or their leaders. And if so, is that a problem? Considering the lofty issue the novel raises about the rights and wrongs of civilization, the fate of Euphoria addicts makes the question even more focused and specific: To what extent do addicts’ lives — or any, really — matter?

Readers are left to wonder what the mass of people deserve living in Los Angeles — or anywhere, really — individuals who embody an endless sense of freedom, but in fact have little control over their day-to-day existence. To examine the issue, Stay Younger Longer is written in a stylized, first-person, present-tense narrative that simultaneously reveals the intricacies of a fast-paced, action-driven plot, but also allows the author to explore the reasons why humanity should be assured about its fate, as well as dread it.

In the end, the effect is positive, and Hyatt succeeds in creating an endearing and darkly-humored tale filled with social commentary, and hope.

For an authentic look at the march of progress, readers will enjoy the first installment in Hyatt’s new science fiction series.

Julie French, Oct. 21, 2015

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